Memorandum by the Scottish National Party
(SNP) (POS 40)
The Scottish National Party submission to the
Committee of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's inquiry
on postal voting.
Our submission is in two parts:
Part one is a summary of our response.
Part two lays out our position and
the rationale behind our position.
The Scottish National Party welcomes an increase
in the use of postal balloting in principle as a measure to increase
voter turnout. This support in principle is subject to certain
necessary safeguards being brought into place.
There are serious concerns which the SNP has
regarding postal balloting in general and suggestions are made
to improve the efficacy and security of postal balloting.
The serious concerns on all-postal balloting
centre on the following points:
1. There are insufficient safeguards in place
or proposed to ensure that postal balloting is capable of preventing
more systematic electoral fraud. A marked register of returned
postal ballots is a long-overdue necessity.
2. The UK government should implement the
Electoral Commission's recommendations on changes to legislation
affecting postal ballots particularly in reference to matters
of electoral fraud and security, as a matter of urgency.
3. The timetable for the issue and replacement
postal ballot papers should be revised.
4. Greater checks and the use of audits should
be implemented by the returning officer to prevent and detect
The UK government has a stated aim of providing
an e-enabled election by 2006. Part of the process involves modernising
the electoral administration and procedures. The UK government
department covering local government has been carrying out electoral
pilots over the past three years. 61 local authorities conducted
either all-postal ballots, internet, telephone and/or digital
forms of voting on 1 May 2003 alone. Electronic counting has also
been piloted most notably in the London mayoral election.
Postal voting is used by an increasing number
of electors and for various reasons.
Postal Balloting: factors to consider
The Scottish National Party welcomes initiatives
which will engage with the electorate and encourage greater participation
in the electoral process. However, there are a number of areas
where electoral procedures should be changed and/or improved in
order that postal balloting is secure, fair and efficient.
Security, Prevention of Fraud and Public Record
of Votes Cast
One of the most important measures for detecting
electoral fraud, is the ability for the public to inspect the
marked register of who voted in an election. Despite current problems
in certain local authorities, the public inspection of marked
registers is an important safeguard.
However, the current law does not permit for
the marked register to show if a postal ballot has been returned,
ie actually cast. All that a marked register will show is that
a postal ballot was sent. In a recent ward by-election, it is
possible to calculate that one-third of postal ballots were not
returned. However, nobody can calculate which third did not return
It is has not been uncommon for opponents to
attempt sharp practices in the past. This loophole would bring
to the forefront the ability for sharp practices to be much more
widespread and even harder to detect. On the grounds of the lack
of marked register of postal votes returned, an all-postal ballot
should not be supported.
It is the SNP's position that the casting of
a vote, by post, by proxy or in person at a polling station, should
be a matter of public record. It is further recommended that postal
ballot papers should be sent by registered post as a means of
securing that papers are securely delivered to electors.
There are a number of electoral procedures which
should be changed in order to make postal balloting fairer and
more efficient. There is a need to make changes to the electoral
timetable should the norm become postal voting.
The timescale for issue and replacement of postal
ballots needs to be addressed. The earliest that an elector can
currently receive their postal ballot paper is 10 days prior to
polling day (or close of polling). Where there have been a large
number of postal ballots issued at a traditional general election,
those ballot papers can take up to three to four days to deliver
after the earliest point at which they can be issued. In some
instances, an elector then has six working days in which to respond.
If, however, an elector declares that they have not received their
postal ballot paper, then the earliest point at which a replacement
ballot paper can be issued is three working days before the close
With postal services being reduced in a number
of areas around Scotland or even disrupted due to industrial action,
that gives insufficient time for an elector to receive a replacement
ballot paper and have it sent back by post.
Location of Delivery Points
In an all-postal ballot electoral pilot, usually
each local authority should have a "delivery point"
for postal ballots to be returned in person/by hand. This should
become a regular feature of traditional polling processes in order
that electors can have peace of mind of returning a ballot paper
ahead of polling day and knowing that the returning officer has
Many candidates and agents have experienced
the inefficiency of the Royal Mail in delivering bulk items of
post: delivering of election addresses is testament to that in
a number of areas. Whilst postal balloting is an addressed item,
there is no guarantee provided or given by the Royal Mail that
in fact each elector will receive a postal ballot paper in time.
This is a significant difference for an elector compared to turning
up at a polling station within the traditional hours of polling.
Educating the Electorate
There have been no indications given of the
level of public education and awareness raising that such an electoral
pilot would require. For an elector who has not used a postal
ballot paper before, particularly the use of declarations of identity,
the postal ballot process can be confusing.
Secrecy of the Vote
A number of individuals and political parties
have also raised concerns about the secrecy of voting at home.
Members of a household can be unduly pressurised by another member
of the household to complete a postal ballot in accordance with
their wishes. "Personation" is also more likely where
a member of a household could in theory return any number of postal
ballots received at the household's address. It is clear that
the electoral administration is not in a position to create safeguards
to check the validity of who has returned a postal ballot paper
prior to a count. The current safeguards are in place as a reactive
measure should a complaint be made. Since there are no marked
registers of returned postal ballots available for public inspection,
then no one is able to check if all postal ballots were returned
from a household or not.
The requirement to have a declaration of identity
should be reviewed. With increased use of technology, the signatures
of an application for a postal vote could be scanned and used
as a checking mechanism at the point of ballot paper return. A
mixture of spot checks and random sample audits would create more
safeguards against electoral fraud.
The Electoral Commission has made a number of
practical recommendations in their report The Shape of Elections
to Come. These recommendations should be acted upon as a matter